Surprise! Net Censorship Circumvention Tools Sell User Data

from the just-when-you-thought-you-were-safe dept

As you may know, there are a number of circumvention tools used by businesses, activists and journalists seeking to avoid the Internet censorship efforts in countries like Saudi Arabia or China. What you probably did not know was that a number of the most popular tools willingly provide specific user data, including browsing history. Harvard researcher Hal Roberts revealed last week that DynaWeb, FreeGate, GPass and FirePhoenix all partake in the startling practice of selling user data.

These tools work by operating as virtual ISPs for the user in the censored country, so they have incredible amounts of information about the online practices of millions of users. As Roberts points out, the best way to avoid sharing this information, which authoritarian governments would love to have, is to not store it. Unfortunately, these projects have chosen to support themselves through the sale of data, thus potentially compromising their goal of Internet freedom. Although they claim to have “strict screening” before selling personally identifiable data, one can easily imagine leaks or errors.

While this shouldn’t be entirely surprising – no system is perfect – it is a practice which should be corrected. And it should serve as a reminder that those wishing to remain anonymous online have an uphill battle.

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